Numbers and the tricks they play

Numbers can be used to tell all sorts of stories. They can help show the scale of a particular problem or issue, illustrating whether it’s big or small.

In this short animation you’ll learn:

  • that just because a number looks big doesn't mean it really is
  • how a really small number might turn out to be much bigger than it first appears

It sometimes helps to break numbers down to see what they really mean or turn them into something you can relate to. For instance:

  • Large distances or areas can be broken down into the equivalent number of football pitches
  • Large numbers of people are often represented by actual areas or even entire countries and populations

Remember to use the same basic checks you do with any story, and ask yourself:

  • who is giving me this number?
  • where did it come from originally?
  • why is this number being used to tell this story?
  • what does it tell me?
  • how does this number relate to the story, my life and something I can understand?
  • when in time does this number relate to? If I look at a different time, does this number change?

Learn how to use numbers in stories by trying our lesson plan.

Knowing who to trust
Recognising fake news
Checking the story
BBC iReporter: What would a journalist do? (Guidance for young people)
Teachers guide to the BBC iReporter interactive game
Lesson 1: Real versus fake news
Lesson 2: Sources and who to trust
Lesson 3: Social media, images and data